There was plenty to do for fun, as a child, in the 1950s and 60s. There was, of course, always the Palace Pier and – for a more sedate visit – the West Pier. On the Palace Pier there were all the usual amusements but also some odd ones. There was a machine that, supposedly, read your palm. You put your hand on a metal plate that had lots of tiny knobs on it, which moved under your hand. Once that was finished, you got your ‘reading’. It was probably as effective as its human counterpart, Madam Petulengro, further down the pier – and much cheaper too.
What the Butler Saw
For the ambitious, there were the What the Butler Saw, machines. They were like large Rolodexes. You turned a wheel at the side, looked into the machine and the cards flicked round, revealing…well, nothing much at all really. If that is all the butler saw, I don’t know why he bothered. I think the exciting bit was that we were doing something that we thought was naughty.
Right at the end of the pier were two layers of gratings, which, I think, had at least two uses. One was to fill and empty out the paddle steamer, the Waverly, a few times in the summer and also the speedboats which ran between the piers. The other use was they were a place for people to fish. They were fairly scary. All that stood between the steps and the gratings were chain railings. No doubt some people fell into the sea, but I don’t remember hearing of it.
Anyone for street tennis
There were seasons for different sorts of games and distractions. When Wimbledon was on, kids got out their parent’s old tennis rackets and played tennis in the street. I grew up in Belton Road, which is pretty steep. The player who stood further up the street had a clear advantage over the other player.
Ups and downs of Yo-Yos
Yoyos came and went with the changing year. Some children became very skilled at playing with them and demonstrated elaborate ‘throws’ and movement of the yoyo along the string. I believe there were even yoyo competitions. Some play items came in comics such as The Dandy or Beano. One was a paper and cardboard device which, when opened quickly with a flick of the hand, produced a loud noise. Given its limited range, I would imagine that this was a quickly passing entertainment.
Remember those plastic strips?
Slightly more elaborate was the plastic strips that could either come with a comic or could be bought in newsagent’s shops. The aim was fairly simple; you plaited the stips together to produce …well…a length of plaited plastic! I seem to remember that some children made bracelets out of them. Hoola Hoops came and went. Some of the more talented got to spin two or three hoops around their waists.
Jacks required dexterity
Jacks were a favourite and for some reason, more for the girls than the boys. The ‘jacks’ were small, criss-cross pieces of metal. You put some onto the back of your hand, threw them up and tried to catch as many as you could, in the same hand. I am no longer able to recall the exact rules of the game. I think it also involved a small ball being bounced between the throwing and the catching.
Why did only girls skip?
Skipping was another, seasonal, game. Again (and I am not sure why) mostly for the girls. To heighten the excitement, it was possible to see two or three children skipping the rope at the same time. Posh skipping ropes had a ball bearing movement in each of the handles, to ensure a smoother run of the rope. Games of marbles had to be played in Princes Crescent, to ensure a reasonably flat surface. Conkers could be played anywhere and were a favourite in the autumn
My big football mistake
Football was played in the street, during the football season. This game was nearly always for the boys. A net was drawn on the side of a house at the bottom of Belton Road. Boys would then take their chances at scoring goals. What must have been really difficult was, again, the steepness of the road. Not being a sporty person, I never played this game and caused a raucous response when I declared that ‘football isn’t a real game, anyway’.
Lots of fresh air
There were, of course, many other games and pastimes, from ‘He’ (a tag game) to hide and seek and so on. The building site of the Sylvan Hall Estate was particularly useful for the latter. Apart from the fun of them, these games meant that the children who played them got lots of fresh air and stayed fairly fit. I wonder if these games are still played?
Do you remember?
Do you remember some of these games and activities? Maybe you played different ones? Did you have a special favourite? Or even one you really did not like? Please tell us about them by posting a comment below.